by Diane Spicer
Maintaining energy level during a hike depends on a steady fuel supply.
For a hiker, food = fuel.
Sounds simple, but a lot of hikers don't think about how what they eat translates into their trail performance.
Here's a quote from a woman who reviewed my Day Hiking Tips book:
"The trail food section was also eye opening. I never gave much thought as to what I was eating on the trail, and the explanations of what your body needs are given in an easy to understand yet scientific manner. I’ve certainly found areas of my trail diet that need improvement, and I am excited to see how that changes my stamina, mood, and enjoyment on the trail."
Let's take a look at why hiking energy waxes and wanes, and how to work with the fuel delivery process your body uses to keep you going.
The human body has a remarkable capacity for handling hourly fluctuations in fuel.
If your car has an empty fuel tank, it shuts down.
But if you have an empty fuel tank (your stomach & blood vessels), all of your systems remain on line, hour after hour.
Your hard working liver, and to a limited extent your skeletal muscles, deliver a steady supply of "fuel" to your cells in the form of glucose (a sugar molecule preferred by most cells).
This fuel delivery process happens whether or not you're hiking. That's why you don't have to eat every five minutes, right?
But on a hiking trail, your body depends on this constant flow of glucose to keep your energy levels high while you're exercising.
If you've eaten a decent breakfast, and plan to stop for a snack after a reasonable interval of hiking, you're in good shape to hit the trail.
Your liver has no trouble delivering a steady stream of fuel to your contracting skeletal muscles, your brain, your heart, and all other parts of your body: in other words, maintaining energy level to meet demand.
Sugars from your breakfast will be available in the bloodstream, thanks to your dependable and multi-tasking liver.
Also, the liver depends upon stored sugar (glycogen), which it built up & saved from excess sugar in previous meals.
Did you a second helping of pasta, bread, rice, cereal and other starchy carbohydrates the day before your hike?
That's how glycogen gets stashed away for later use.
Note the word "decent" tied to "breakfast". That's the key to maintaining energy level early in your hike.
How about a bowl of oatmeal with a spoonful of brown sugar plus a handful of walnuts and dried fruit instead?
That hiker breakfast provides "slow burn" fuel (glucose with fiber, vitamins and minerals) to keep you going until snack break.
Your liver doesn't have to scramble to regulate the amount of sugar entering your bloodstream by cutting up glycogen molecules into glucose.
Your gut might feel better, too!
Yo-yo spikes of blood sugar are harmful in the long run, because this places stress on the pancreas and impedes its ability to supply a hormone called insulin.
Without insulin, the sugar in your blood can't get into your cells.
Eventually, major organ systems begin to lose function: eyes, kidneys, immune system... that's called diabetes, and it's a chronic, life altering condition that no hiker wants to deal with.
Bottom line: To avoid long term trouble, avoid daily, large doses of sugary nutrient-poor foods.
Try these ideas for maintaining a high energy level on your next hike:
Make time for breakfast, even if that means getting up a half hour earlier.
When you get strong hunger signals on the trail, stop within a few minutes and eat a snack.
Paying attention to your hydration levels is also a smart move, because without water, your cells can't utilize all of the glucose in your bloodstream.
There are lots more tips for getting, and keeping, a high energy level in my Day Hiking Tips book!
Commit to maintaining your energy levels during your hike and be amazed at how much further you can go, and feel great doing it!
You've only got one liver, one pancreas, and one hiking career.
So cooperate with your energy production system and you'll never have to face the "crash and burn" syndrome of hikers who rely on sugar laden trail food.
You're in it for the long haul, am I right?
In that case, read why protein is your second best friend on the trail.
Maintaining Energy Level
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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer.
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